Portland activist finds himself in #MeToo mess

Portland’s Resistance co-founder Gregory McKelvey(

A years-old arrest has thrust a rising star in Portland activist circles into the middle of the #MeToo movement.

Portland’s Resistance co-founder Gregroy McKevely was jailed six years ago on suspicion of strangling and kidnapping an ex-girlfriend while he was an 18-year-old student at Oregon State University, records show.

It appears the case eventually was dismissed, but police and court records are sealed, so it’s not clear how it was resolved.

A news article from the Corvallis newspaper shortly after the incident offers some details of the September 2011 arrest, but the story was removed last year from its website after McKelvey contacted the editor.

McKelvey declined repeated requests to talk about what happened. He released a statement Tuesday afternoon as The Oregonian/OregonLive prepared to publish an article, saying that he has "never in my life had a physical altercation with any woman."

Instead, McKelvey said he was trying to intervene in a fight.

"I am sorry. I am sorry that I have not addressed this in more public terms in the past," he said.

[Read the rest of McKelvey’s statement here]

Before the #MeToo movement exploded, fellow activists were aware of the allegations against McKelvey.

Eloquent and energetic, McKelvey emerged as a visible presence in Portland politics in 2016, first as an outspoken supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and later as a media-friendly figure in the city’s Black Lives Matter movement.

But it was during the city’s convulsive protests following Donald Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton that gave McKelvey a platform of his own. Leading street demonstrations that brought thousands to downtown, he helped launch Portland’s Resistance, a group he’s cast as a national model for how to battle the Trump administration’s agenda.

"I want to be the Tea Party of the left," he said in an interview last year.

While grabbing local headlines, McKelvey’s work and advocacy also garnered him glowing profiles in national and international publications such as Vice and The Guardian. In October, he delivered a local Ted Talk on the importance of protests and community activism.

But some people and groups have quietly distanced themselves from him. Others have asked him on social media to address his arrest, but he has ignored or rebuffed them.

The questions have intensified as the #MeToo movement continues to cast a harsh light on men in politics, entertainment and media who have been accused of mistreating women in the past.

"In my opinion, people need to know who they’re working with," said Teressa Raiford, the founder of Don’t Shoot PDX who used to work closely with McKelvey. "We don’t hold men accountable, to the detriment of all our safety."

Joey Gibson, the leader of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer and a McKelvey critic, has recently publicly called out his rival about the arrest, addressing a local school board about McKelvey’s fitness to talk to elementary schoolchildren.

Details of the incident are sparse and little is known about who reported it or whether the girl involved was injured.

According to an article published in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, Oregon State Police early on the morning of Sept. 24, 2011, responded to a report of a physical altercation between McKelvey and an ex-girlfriend at an Oregon State University residence hall.

A recent graduate of Southridge High School in Beaverton, McKelvey had just started his freshman year at OSU. The woman, then 17, was still a high school student in Washington County.

Police launched an investigation and arrested McKelvey six days later, the Gazette-Times reported. He was booked Sept. 30 into the Benton County Jail on suspicion of strangulation, assault, harassment and first-degree kidnapping, a felony, according to records and a jail mugshot provided by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

McKelvey posted bail, set at $132,500, the same day, said Deputy John Nordyke.

Additional documented details are few. The Benton County District Attorney’s Office said it possesses no public records of the encounter. And the state police report is exempt from Oregon’s public record law, said Deputy Attorney General Frederick Boss in a letter to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Steve Clark, an OSU vice president for university relations and marketing, said that state police at the time notified the university about the incident, and that such a case would have been investigated by the school’s Office of Student Conduct.

Clark said he couldn’t provide additional details about what happened or any university investigation, citing federal laws on student privacy.

The woman involved didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview. The Oregonian/OregonLive first contacted McKelvey about the arrest in November and he has repeatedly declined to talk about it.

Some activists who spoke with The Oregonian/OregonLive said they first learned of the assault allegations against McKelvey soon after he launched Portland’s Resistance in November 2016, though few publicly raised the issue.

Olivia Pace, a former organizer with the Portland State University Student Union, said she and other members of the left-wing campus group openly discussed the allegations at meetings around that time. The group, she said, decided that it would keep its distance from McKelvey and his newly founded organization.

"The accusations discouraged us from working with Portland’s Resistance heavily," Pace said. "None of us trusted Greg."

Concern became more widespread when a link to an online version of the Gazette-Times article began to circulate publicly on social media last February, shortly after another member of Portland’s Resistance, Micah Rhodes, was accused of sexually abusing an underage boy.

Soon after, the news story about McKelvey’s arrest vanished from the Gazette-Times website.

In a recent interview, Mike McInally, the newspaper’s editor, said that a datebook he keeps shows McKelvey contacted him to remove the article on Jan. 30 — the same day police announced the accusations against Rhodes.

"In general, my preference would have been to update a story and not remove it," said McInally, who receives up to 10 requests a week to remove articles from the website and could not recall this specific instance. "It looks like for whatever reason I might have gone and taken the whole thing down entirely."

An archived version of the Gazette-Times article, however, remained online, which continued to fuel questions about McKelvey’s arrest.

It generated even more discussion as the national #MeToo movement gained traction.

Two women activists said they tried confronting McKelvey directly on separate occasions, but he blocked both of them on social media, prohibiting them from seeing or commenting on posts he makes on Facebook or Twitter. One of them, Mimi German, said she was also contacted by other well-known activists and told to stop bringing up the issue.

"I don’t understand why some in our community aren’t taking this seriously," said German, who has worked to address homelessness and housing issues with City Hall. "Why is this any different than Harvey Weinstein? To me it was terrifying."

In other confrontations, McKelvey has pushed back against the allegations and claimed the incident never occurred.

"This isn’t even a real article lol this is a web archive of fake manufactured news," McKelvey wrote in November after Portland restaurateur Nick Zukin shared an archived version of the news story on McKelvey’s Facebook page.

"so are you saying that you weren’t arrested or booked?" Zukin wrote back.

"Yes," said McKelvey.

Later, the exchange vanished from McKelvey’s Facebook page.

— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
skavanaugh@oregonian.com
503-294-7632 || @shanedkavanaugh

Portland City Hall (The Oregonian/File)
Portland’s interim chief lobbyist was promoted into a permanent role Thursday.
–Jamie Hale | jhale@oregonian.com | @HaleJamesB

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